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Feb./Mar. '04 Articles:
Collateral Damage
Editorial: Dissent Under Siege
Notes from the Cultural Wasteland
The Muddlemarch: 1
The Muddlemarch: 2
3rd Parties
Blood on Your Back
A Kid by Any Other Name ...
(music reviews)

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If you think the Republicans are bad, just wait 'til you meet the Libertarians.

"If the government sold its acreage to private ranchers, the new owners would make sure that they grazed the land sustainably to maximize profit and yield," claims an issue statement on the party's official web site. Libertarians would protect the environment and save endangered species by encouraging private ownership of wild lands and the animals on them. "Indeed, ownership of wildlife can literally save endangered species from extinction," the Libertarians theorize, much like the "commercialization of the buffalo saved it from extinction."

Commercial ranching of buffalo–American bison, more accurately–did indeed help increase their population. However, the Libertarians apparently fail to notice that the bison almost became extinct because of unconstrained, unregulated harvesting of wild herds by private entrepreneurs. Commercialization didn't save the bison from extinction: It damn near caused it. If the National Park program and Bison Protection Law passed in 1894 hadn't protected the small remaining herds, it is unlikely there would have been any buffalo left to commercialize.

The self-professed third largest American political party, Libertarians have been running for president since their first national convention in 1972, with platforms based on the theory of government non-interventionism, which they hoped would result in "a world where individuals are free to follow their own ways, a world of peace, harmony, opportunity, and abundance."

The Libertarian mission offers a rosy, utopian world view. However, when turned into planks in a political platform, that utopian vision degenerates into a series of half-baked plans based on the "truism" that free enterprise is always better than government–a belief that has been repeatedly disproved by experiments in privatizing prisons and schools, for example.

Nevertheless, Libertarians not only propose to improve education by privatizing public schools, they also hope to reduce unemployment by eliminating both regulations and taxes on corporations and to solve the health care crisis by privatizing Medicare and Medicaid and eliminating the FDA.

Thank God these people never gain enough political ground to have any real power. Testing Libertarian theory against real-life leadership decisions would make for a tough lesson.

As we head deeper into the election year, many Americans will feel dissatisfied with the options offered by the two-party system and wish for a third party candidate worth backing. They will look to parties like the Libertarians, as well as the Green Party, Socialist Party U.S.A., Reform Party, and Labor Party for alternatives to Democrats and Republicans.

Unfortunately, despite the number of Americans who dislike Republicans and dislike Democrats only a little less (or vice versa), few of these parties have managed to become a credible, viable threat to the two-party system, and it is unlikely that any of the third party candidates will create much of a ripple through the electorate this year.

While many people will prefer the platforms offered by one or more alternatives, each "third party" option has at least one big problem: Like the Libertarians, each of the third parties offers an abundance of theory and impassioned idealism–backed by a dearth of experience.

Wisely, some alternative parties won't run a presidential candidate this year. The Communist Party USA, for example, works more like a coalition of activists than a political party, at least as far as balloting is concerned. The party has chosen as its main agenda to oust Bush, rather than to campaign for a Communist president.

Likewise, the newest of the alternative parties, the Labor Party, plans to work "mostly on issue campaigns," said a spokesperson, and has no plans to enter the Presidential campaign.

The Socialist Party USA, however, has nominated its presidential candidate, Walt Brown, a member of the party since 1948, and a former Oregon state senator. His running mate, Mary Alice Herbert, is a retired schoolteacher. She has run for political office several times since 1984, but has yet to hold any office.

The Reform Party grew out of Ross Perot's discarded, but still somewhat impressive, 1992 presidential campaign. The party has a nebulous, fragmented platform based on Perot's rhetoric, full of grievances but with few detailed solutions, aside from items like "no more free meals" for politicians. They are unlikely to register a blip on the electoral radar.

The two that offer the most organized opposition, the Libertarians and the Greens, will probably have little real impact on the outcome of this election, although the Greens may cause a few ripples in the flow of political rhetoric. The Libertarian Party may rightfully claim "third biggest" status, but the Green Party is coming up fast. Of all the available alternatives, Greens probably come closest to offering any real solution to the two-party problem.

The party's national convention, at which their candidate will be chosen and platform hammered out, will be held June 23-28 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Six candidates are currently running for the nomination, including one "draft" candidate–Peter Camejo, who says he'd rather see Ralph Nader as the nominee than himself. The other five range from environmental activists to a biomechanics Ph.D. They sound like a pretty nice bunch of people, and it would be fun to sit down over coffee with any of them, probably. None, however, have any significant political experience that would prepare them for four years in Washington.

As passionate, intelligent, rational, and idealistic as the candidates may be, none will become a viable opponent to Bush and whatever Democrat comes out on top. There is an immediate reason for this: few voters will be willing to revisit the Bush-Gore-Nader fiasco of 2000, so few will risk voting Green.

More important, however, is the party's general lack of political presence and experience. The Greens boast of 63 election victories in 2003 (out of 272 candidates), and have grown since their founding in the 1980s. In 1985, the first year Greens ran for any office, none of the three candidates won. In 2002, 78 out of 558 candidates were elected to office. A total of 409 Green candidates have been elected since 1985.

The highest office held by a Green so far is that of mayor, with many of the Green mayors winning elections in tiny places like Village of New Paltz, New York. Not surprisingly, most Green mayors were elected in California. There are Greens who have stayed in office for up to 14 years, typically in city commission-type positions, school board posts, and the like.

So in almost 20 years, the Green Party has managed to elect about 400 people to entry-level political positions. That's a first step, but not really a great start. Usually, school board races and city council posts are nonpartisan, and decisions in small municipalities are rarely made along party lines. City commissions and school boards usually decide on zoning special exceptions and budget issues on the basis of a rather fundamental fairness, balancing the rights of an individual against the needs of a community, for example. It is unlikely that a city commissioner's "Greenness" ever comes into play at that level.

Sitting on a city commission or planning board is a good training ground for people that want to try applying political theory to real life decisions. However, there's a big difference between deciding whether Joe Bob can open his bed-and-breakfast in a residential neighborhood and solving a national health care crisis or figuring out what to do with Iraq, now that we have it.

We're right to be skeptical of an inexperienced politician's bid for president. Even at the local level, there's a learning curve, when commissioners, aldermen, and so on have to learn their way around the process, the issues, and the history behind them. A responsible citizen would never vote to put a political neophyte in the president's seat.

However, the Green Party is doing the right thing by building a base at the local level. There are other, perhaps even more important aspects of the Green organization. The party's affiliation with international Greens is potentially visionary, for example. The world is now truly a global village, and the political party of the future will necessarily see itself as part of a whole that transcends America's borders.

The party also takes a somewhat Buddhist-like attitude toward other parties. According to the Green Party definitions, "groups like the Labor Party and Socialist Party are more like clubs when ballot status is considered," so one can be a member of those parties, too, and even run for office as a Green. This could be taken farther: A startup party would do well to build coalitions with other disenfranchised voters.

But even if a third-party candidate had a popular platform and an impressive political background, it is unlikely that he or she could win this Presidential election. Voters want to back a winner. As we can see now, as the Democratic primaries take place, people are more likely to vote for someone who has a chance to win, rather than risk voting with their heart but backing a loser.

For now, a third party would do well to emulate the Communists and Labor Party. If, rather than spinning their wheels running a can't-win candidate, Greens, Socialists, and Reformers concentrated on getting rid of Bush and the Republicans in Congress, they would gain a lot of credibility from the voters, who would at least then be able to view them as not only idealistic but pragmatic.

If successful, they might improve the chances for a viable third party candidate next time around. A substantial falling-away of voters from the Republican party might at least level the playing field to the point that third party candidates could participate in debates, where they have so far gone unheard.

In any case, few circumstances could open the doors for a new party as decisively as the political devastation of the old guard.

Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous Nude Macbeth, which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's Real Sex, and Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

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